Friday, November 21, 2008

Blue Ridge Parkway - Meadows of Dan

The Meadows of Dan makes a great stopping point along the Blue Ridge Parkway. I tend to want to spend the night there because it is the closest place to spend the night near Mabry Mill. Getting up for sunrise photos is MUCH easier when you are close to your subject. We've stayed at the Meadows of Dan RV park and thought it was a nice place. This time we stayed at the Blue Ridge Motel. It is an older hotel, but the owners were very friendly and it also made a good place to stay. Our ATT cell phone service had no signal and we had no internet, but for one night in this area it was worth it.

We had dinner at the Mountain House Restaurant. They served a great buffet of "home cooked" food.

The Poor Farmer's Market is a must stop. Not only was there fresh produce - squash, apples, pumpkins, tomatoes, etc, but inside the store was Amish fresh churned butter, jellies, fresh baked goods, fresh local cheeses, specialty teas, etc. I spent thirty minutes wandering through the store and we left with breads and crisp sweet apples. If we had been in the RV, I would have bought both cheese and the churned butter.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Mabry Mill

Mabry Mill is probably one of the most photographed locations. Although I've been there at sunset, it is really a sunrise or cloudy day place because the best vantage point to catch both the mill and the pond is from the east looking west. The last time I was there, I was the only photographer out. This time, I was a late comer to a group of photographers that were part of a workshop. They had obviously been there awhile and were everywhere trying to get the best angle. I had overslept and realized quickly that I had probably already missed the "best" light. The sun was already catching the trees behind the mill - so the exposure difference between the trees and the mill was too great for the sensor. So I shot for HDR - basically three or more exposures one stop apart until I could get the background trees exposed and the darkest areas around the water wheel. Right now I'm working shots both with Photomatix and the HDR function of Photoshop. This time the Photoshop version just didn't work even after two tries. But the Photomatix version had its issues as well - there was a blown out area in the water where the blue sky was too bright. The yellow reflection in the water from the trees was also too bright. When shooting foliage, photomatix also can make the leaves look not quite sharp enough. So, I used a dodge and burn technique to tone down the bright yellow reflection. I cropped out the reflected sky. I created a duplicate background layer so I could sharpen the trees and leaves more. And then on the dodge and burn layer, I add just a little bit of warm color to brighten every thing.

The light was changing fast and the lighting on the mill was going to be speckled - too much difference between the bright early morning sun and the shadows from the trees. While I was a little frustrated that I had not gotten there earlier, I took time to do some panoramic shots. Because we were trying to follow foliage, I knew we couldn't stay in the area another day for a reshoot. I needed to get to the Great Smokies before the foliage there was all gone.

I'll be playing with the shots I did take for awhile. Here is one taken when the sun was a little higher. It is actually a stitch of two photos that I've turned into digital art using Topaz Vivacity.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway is 469 miles of lovely driving. No stop signs, no stop lights, just smooth cruising through beautiful scenery. Designed and built in the 1930's, construction started in 1935. Most of the construction was completed by 1967. The last 7.5 miles were completed in 1987. The Linn Cove Viaduct was specially built to prevent cutting through a beautiful stretch of ancient mountains. To read more about the amazing engineering of this elevated road, go to the Blue Ridge Parkway Association's webpage.

We usually spend about three days going down the Parkway. Our very first visit to the Parkway was in the 1970's. We had a very limited amount of time. We were coming up from the south and got as far as Mount Mitchell. From the top of Mount Mitchell, there was a sea of clouds that was just beautiful. However, the Parkway became engulfed in fog, we finally had to descend to the valleys because there was no visibility even for driving much less sight seeing. We've been back several times since and it is truly beautiful.

One of the nicest things about this road is that it follows the ridges, so there are many opportunities to look down to the valleys below from the overlooks. However, I find that while the view is gorgeous, it is difficult to photograph. Each of the overlooks is "maintained" by regularly trimming the trees that keep trying to grow into the view. That makes it difficult sometimes to get a "clean" image. Because you are on top of a ridge, you can see long distances. But I find it also makes it hard to get good sharp images of the details in the distance.

Here is one of my attempts to capture the beauty from one of the overlooks:

When I view this image at the pixel level, it does not match my standards for sharpness anywhere. However, I liked the image with the patchwork of farms and pastures in the valley, so I played with the Topaz sharpening filter. It worked better for this purpose when I had resized the image. I think I prefer this artistic version. You may need to click on the images to get a larger version to see better the effect:

I tried to take advantage of the trees that were on the ridge by the road. I focused on the leaves of the tree on the right. I think this image works except for one branch in the middle foreground that I could not quite find an angle without it.

One last image for today, the fall colors were gorgeous:

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Real Story behind the Wizard of Oz

I read many things every day. I follow some threads on webpages and not others. Following an interesting thread, I found an interesting analysis about the original work that the movie, "The Wizard of Oz" was based on the Minyanville website. The entire article is good reading for those trying to figure out what the stock market may do next, but science fiction and fantasy fans and other people who like to read books may find the analysis of L Frank Baum's economic and political commentary on his times quite interesting.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ike - Integrated Kinetic Energy and Hurricane Ike

The Galveston County News has an article today by their weather reporter, Stan Blazyk, about the IKE scale - worth reading. Hurricane Ike measured a 5.6 on the scale of 1-6 on the Integrated Kinetic Energy scale. (Another article I read said Hurricane Ike measured 5.4 - still larger than Katrina) Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Wilma only measured 5.1. While I never found the reference in Weatherwise, he mentions that Hurricane Ike was designated as the largest hurricane ever in the North Atlantic Basin. Weatherwise also has an interesting article about a reporter who followed Gustav. Hunting Gustav: A Broadcast Meteorologist's Diary which noted that the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900 and Hurricane Ike both connected with cold fronts and re-strengthened over the midwest. It is an interesting read.

If you are interested in reading more about the Ike scale, Stan Blazyk's article provided two links. A Google search for the Ike Scale also came up with more interesting articles that have been written since Ike. I suspect that in the future, hurricane forecasters will be using the newer Ike scale in addition to the Saffir-Simpson scale to give a better sense of how much damage a given storm will produce.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Galveston Update

Since Hurricane Ike, I read the Galveston County News every day. It's been almost two months. During that time, our nation has faced an enormous economic crisis that came to a head during Hurricane Ike's visit. We've had a historic Presidential election that was hard fought and demanded everyone's time and attention. When we took our fall foliage photo trip, I heard tales from people in Ohio and Kentucky who were so surprised that Hurricane Ike had brought damage and lost power so far from the gulf.

When we were on the island right after Ike, I was impressed with how rapidly help arrived. Army helicopters were making rescues the morning after. Texas State Troopers were lined up to help keep order. HEB sent semi tractor trailer rigs with water and ice. The state of Texas had contracts with truckers who also brought in ice and water. FEMA vehicles, Wal-mart Emergency Team, fire departments from all over Texas had come to help. People who had remained in Galveston were having bar-b-ques to use the meat in their freezers. We could hear generators running at some homes. Some people had already pulled out the wet carpet and padding and they were on the street ready to be hauled away. Some of the historic houses already had water remediation contractors checking things out. National Guard soldiers were checking homes for victims and engineers were already assessing damage. When we left as we drove up I-45, we saw the army of utility cherry picker trucks that had come to restore electricity. While there were complaints (aren't there always), I left Galveston knowing that already things were getting going.

Of course, the bad news was that the Mayor had decided not to let residents return to start their own cleanup. Yes, port-a-potties are unsightly, but . . . I can't help but wonder if people had been allowed in (as was the norm before) quicker, if the damage costs would have been less for a large number of people. Some of the less affluent folk were not even allowed back into their units to salvage belongings that might have survived (plates, jewelry, things that don't mold, mildew or rust.) I know the army has big trucks that carry potable water - I think it would have been possible to let people back in so that they could at least inspect their property and do damage control quickly.

As I've read the news every day, I'm impressed by the strong will that many businesses have to get their business cleaned up, restocked, and open again. Many businesses are open, there are grocery stores, restaurants, hotels that are ready for business. The hotels are full, but as the FEMA vouchers run out, that may not continue.

But Galveston is out of sight, out of mind. People either think that everything is "back to normal" or they think the entire city was wiped out. Neither is true. At the time, I was amazed at how many residences behind the seawall looked so normal. I am amazed now that there was so much damage that was not easily visible in just a casual drive through. I wonder how many homes will be torn down either due to the amount of damage or because they were more than 50% destroyed and cannot be repaired without being elevated to the new flood guidelines. I was glad to hear that homes older than 50 years may qualify as "historic" and will be able to rebuilt even if the damage is over 50%. I grieve and worry about homeowners whose damage may have been 60%, the insurance will pay 60%, but the building codes for the flood insurance require that they be destroyed. Some of those homeowners will only receive the 60% which may not pay off the mortgage. They'll have a mortgage with no home to live in. The Small Business Administration may provide loans, but now is not the time to be trying to get a mortgage.

The picture is really mixed right now. I've heard that Murdoch's Bathhouse will be allowed to rebuild (Hurrah!!!!), but the cost seems astronomical to me. Some folks are working hard and trying to get on with their lives. For others, they are caught in a nightmare. Their homes are unliveable. FEMA assistance is running out. Some having been living in a communal tent for the last few weeks and have been moved from one tent to another. Temporary housing trailers ahave been delayed because no one can figure out where to put them on the island. In an ideal world, the this type of housing would be temporary and would need to be removed before the next hurricane season. This is not an ideal world. So . . . the temporary trailers have not yet arrived to alleviate the housing shortage.

The University of Texas Medical Branch was heavily damaged from the storm. They have just announced the loss of 3800 jobs. They are talking about downsizing the hospital and perhaps moving many of the functions of the medical branch to Austin.

The taxing authorities on the island are worried about the loss of tax revenue. While they could have reappraised based upon the value for the months before the hurricane and for the value of the property after the hurricane, they are not going to reappraise for this tax year. However, next year, they will have to reevaluate based upon the current value or lack thereof.

There are valid concerns that over the last few years that the rising property values and rising taxes, that the middle class were being priced out of Galveston. Galveston's low income housing was hard hit. It will still take time for the business to reopen and provide the job that these folks sorely need. Low income families lack the resources to replace their lost belongings, to relocate, or to afford the hotel rooms after the FEMA money runs out.

Galveston has been a unique place because it has been a living community will all incomes represented rather than just a resort community. Only time will tell if that will be true after Ike.

I have not been back to Galveston since Ike, but Bill Crider has been down there and posted some photos. When we were there the streets around the Strand were empty, when Bill was there they were filled with debris from the businesses.

Martha Wells has also blogged about the current state of affairs. Not a pretty picture.

Now, I realize that this has been a long blog, but this article from the Fort Worth Weekly is a must read.

I don't know what my little blog can do to help keep Galveston and its issues in people's hearts and minds. Perhaps the people who think we should not have towns on barrier islands are correct. But I've been visiting Galveston island for a very long time. It is a special place. I think we need to find better ways to help the people who are trying to rebuild.

Creativity and Photography

There are so many ways to be creative with photography in the digital age. I am a firm believer that it is important to capture an image as well as you can to begin with - I don't shoot with the thought "I can fix it in Photoshop." But I also enjoy exploring the creative things you can do both "in camera" and in Photoshop that take an ordinary scene and make it something beautiful.
As I work through the images I took on our fall trip, I ran across this one. Taken at the beginning of our drive down the Blue Ridge Parkway, this beautiful fall tree drew my attention, called to me.

The sun was cooperating by hiding behind a clouding, so that if I waited patiently I could get soft lighting. The rocks seemed an interesting foreground. The catch: the wind was blowing just enough to cause some motion blur of the leaves in places at my preferred ISO 100 for landscapes. I played a little in photoshop to get the rocks nicely exposed and then did a little bit of dodging and burning to make the tree look "good."

I found that it seemed pretty, but perhaps ordinary.

I purchased Topaz Adjust and Topaz Vivacity during the summer. After playing around with the Adjust filter, I went over to Vivacity and came up with this version:

I went back to the original and played around with the Photoshop artistic filters to try to find an artistic effect that would work with this shot. Then I went back to Topaz Vivacity to get the finished look I wanted.

After posting this, I added even more saturation to bring out more of the reds.

I think I like this last version the best, because it keeps the deep reds in the tree, but still gives this a more painted look.
Which one do you like best?

To get the full effect of these photos, you can click on each one and get a larger view.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

New River Gorge National River

As a country we have set aside a number of river areas as National Rivers. The Ozark National Scenic Riverways was the first, set aside in 1964. More have been added under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was passed in 1968:

It is hereby declared to be the policy of the United States that certain selected rivers of the Nation which, with their immediate environments, possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural or other similar values, shall be preserved in free-flowing condition, and that they and their immediate environments shall be protected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations. The Congress declares that the established national policy of dams and other construction at appropriate sections of the rivers of the United States needs to be complemented by a policy that would preserve other selected rivers or sections thereof in their free-flowing condition to protect the water quality of such rivers and to fulfill other vital national conservation purposes. (Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, October 2, 1968)

Some of these rivers are managed by the National Park Service, some by Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and others National Forest Service. There are a number that are in partnership with other state and local agencies, Partnership Wild and Scenic Rivers.

When looking for something to visit on our way to the Blue Ridge Parkway, we chose the New River Gorge National River in southern West Virginia. I gave myself a day to scout out the area and I definitely would like to go back and spend more time exploring the area. It is a unique river in North America, because it flows north!

We woke up to a cloudy, somewhat wet morning.

We started at the Grandview area. The overlook of the gorge was obscured by the fog, but the forest was lovely in its partially obscured state. The foliage was past its peak, but the fallen leaves left a beautiful carpet underneath the trees.

We ate a picnic lunch by Glade Creek - sitting on rocks by the boat launch. There were these amazing insects that moved by the thousands along the water creating ripples. Along the road to the Glade Creek campground, I saw my first Downy woodpecker. It is one of the smallest woodpeckers - I would not have realized it was a woodpecker if I had not had the binoculars to see it more clearly.

New River Gorge has four visitor centers - Canyon Rim, Sandstone, Thurmon Depot, and Grand View. Canyon RIm and Sandstone are open year round. Canyon Rim is right near the beautiful New River Gorge Bridge, the world's second longest single arch bridge. We were not there for dramatic enough lighting for me to venture a photo (yes, I've gotten bad, if I can't get a good or great photo, I don't take one at all - silly me) The next day was going to be "Bridge Day." The bridge is closed to vehicular traffic and fills with pedestrians. Activities include Base jumping, rappelling, and high line, and rafting below. Naturally vendors supply food and refreshment as well as souvenir shirts, crafts, and photos, etc. While this might be a fun thing to attend another year, our time was limited and I was glad we happened by the day before rather than the day of the event.

We went from the falls area over to the Thurmon historic district. I had seen a backroads route that I wanted to explore. We found the beautiful Dunlap Creek:

Some parts of my backcountry route definitely fit in the "road less travelled' category, but it was a great road to be pretty much by yourself in a beautiful outdoor area. It was also a great place to create more of these artistic images that I have not come up with a great name for. I liked this one because of how the small tree shows up with its brilliant yellow foliage.

While I did not find that "perfect" place to photograph the New River, I did stop at the end of the day to get at least a few shots at the river level.

The next morning we went over to the Sandstone Visitor Center. This is a new, very beautiful Visitor Center - well worth the stop. We saw the Sandstone Falls from the road. It was a long hike down and it was a bright sunny day, so we continued our journey south following the foliage.

I would love to come back to this area and spend a week both exploring and trying to wait for those perfect lighting moments.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Circular Polarizing Lenses

My circular polarizing lens lives on my camera. I only take it off when I am taking photos inside. A polarizing lens works a lot like your polarized sunglasses - blocking reflections and glare. But in the camera the actual effects are much more obvious in your finished product. On our trip, I was out one foggy, damp morning. I have two shots here: one with the polarizer, one without.

I have not done any color adjustments on these - they are straight out of camera. This first shot does not look too bad, you can see the fall colors carpeting the ground.

But notice how much richer and more saturated the colors are with the polarizer. The polarizer removes the reflections from the damp leaves, leaving the colors deeper and richer.

On this next pair, I did do an exposure adjustment, but notice how the glare on the rocks goes away with the polarized image. This first one - not polarized:

Notice how much more the leaves show up on this one, where the glare from the wet rock is gone.

On this next pair of images, the glare on the wet rocks gives it a different look - I almost like the reflection on the wet rocks.

However, I really like how the leaf shows up better with richer color on the polarized version.

When shooting for blue sky and clouds, a circular polarizer works better when you are shooting at a a 90 degree angle from the sun. So if the sun is in the west, the polarizer will be most effective if you are shooting to the north or south. One way to see this for your self is to face north and turn the polarizer so the sky is that deep rich blue. Now turn all the way around watching the sky and how it changes. At some positions, the sky will be darker on the left or right. This is why if you are shooting panoramic shots, it is better to take the polarizer off. And if you are shooting directly away from the sun, you may also want to leave the polarizer off to keep the sky's color even rather than darker on one side. You can always deepen the blue using Selective Color in Photoshop. But most times, it is better to use the polarizer to get the color and the beauty of the clouds.

A polarizing filter also can amplify a rainbow. When you play with your polarizer with a rainbow, you'll see that at one setting, the rainbow disappears and then reappears as you twist the lens. The same is true with certain water reflections.

Monday, November 03, 2008


Tomorrow is Election Day here in the States. Regardless of who you are voting for, please search your heart, take time to cast your vote for the candidate that you think most represents what you believe should happen in the next four years.

Each one of us will have a different "agenda," different most important issues, different viewpoints based upon our life history.

I hope and pray that God is touching our hearts as we prepare to vote. I can't claim wisdom as to which candidates would be God's choices. But I do believe that God is still alive and active in the world. My prayer is that God guide our hearts and minds as we as a nation vote. When the results come in tomorrow night, I will pray that we as a country unite together and work together as a team to meet the challenges that our politicians will face the next four years. We have to move beyond the partisanship of an election year to find workable solutions for the current issues our country faces.

The right to vote has been won by many warrior's deaths and by courageous people who stood up for what they believed to be right. Go exercise that privilege tomorrow and appreciate the ones who have gone before that made it possible for you to have a voice in your government.